United States: San Jose's Opportunity To Work Ordinance: New Peculiarity For Employers

Seyfarth Synopsis: On November 8, 2016, San Jose voters approved the most recent local effort to dictate employment scheduling practices. Beginning in March 2017, San Jose employers must offer existing part-time employees additional work hours before hiring any temporary, part-time, or new worker. Violations of the ordinance can trigger city fines and private law suits.

Temporary, part-time, and contract employees are important segments of the economy, particularly around the holidays. Retailers and logistics companies often rely on these workers to meet customers' holiday wishes. And outside of the holidays, temporary and part-time employees provide important scheduling flexibility in an increasingly on-demand economy. The new year, however, will bring new restrictions on the ability of San Jose employers to use these important staffing tools.

Ok, so what do I need to know?  On November 8, 2016, San Jose voters approved Ballot Measure E, called the "Opportunity to Work Ordinance," which requires an employer to offer part-time employees additional hours before the employer hires any new or temporary employees. Sponsored by a coalition of labor unions, the new ordinance limits employers' ability to bring on new workers by forcing them to first offer existing "employees" the opportunity to work the additional hours. The ordinance also saddles employers with new record retention and notice requirements.

The restrictions will take effect on March 8, 2017 and, as covered here, continue a trend seen in other California cities, such as San Francisco, of local regulation of employers' scheduling and hiring practices.

What if I employ only two people in San Jose? You still may be covered. The ordinance covers employers if they employ more than 35 employees and are subject to San Jose's business tax. But employers can be covered even if they employ 35 or fewer employees in San Jose. For chain businesses, the ordinance counts every employee of the business, whether or not located in San Jose. For franchisees, the ordinance counts all employees of the franchisee, again, without regard for where the employees work.

The ordinance also broadly defines "employee." Companies "employ" an individual if they exercise direct or indirect control over the individual's wages, hours, or working conditions. For an employee to fall under the ordinance, the employee must have worked two hours within the last calendar week or be entitled to California's minimum wage.

How can I comply? The short answer is that it is not entirely clear. We know that the ordinance:

  • requires employers to offer qualifying employees the extra hours before looking to temporary labor solutions (obviously),
  • requires employers to post notice to their employees about their rights under the new ordinance,
  • requires employers to "use a transparent and non-discriminatory processes" to distribute hours among existing employees,
  • only requires employers to offer additional hours to employees who "in the employer's good faith and reasonable judgment, have the skills and experience to perform the work," and
  • stops short of requiring employers to pay existing employees overtime.

Employers need not offer additional hours to employees if those hours would entitle the employee to a premium rate of pay.

Aside from these guidelines, however, the ordinance provides no additional detail on how employers must distribute hours among existing employees or when an employer can send work to a contractor or temporary staffing company. For more guidance, we must wait on the City or the courts. The ordinance grants the City authority to issue guidelines and rules, as well as to make non-substantive changes to the ordinance itself.

Is there anything else I need to do? Yes, and you may need another file cabinet. In addition to its scheduling component, the ordinance burdens employers with record retention and notice requirements. Employers must retain records for new hires that show the employer's efforts to first offer the additional work to existing part-time employees. Employers must also preserve employee work schedules and "any other records the City requires for employers to demonstrate compliance with the ordinance." All of these records must be maintained for four years. Failure to comply will create a presumption that the employee's account as to scheduling practices is accurate.

Further, the ordinance requires employers to display a poster outlining the rights created by the ordinance.  The City's Office of Equality Assurance will publish a bulletin outlining the required notice, but has not done so yet.

What are the consequences if I stick to my old scheduling practices? Ignoring the ordinance could result in significant liability. Although the ordinance exempts employers for their first violation, the ordinance authorizes the City to issue administrative fines up to $50 per violation and to seek civil penalties in court for noncompliance.

More alarming yet, the ordinance authorizes private actions. Any person not offered work under the ordinance can bring a private suit in court. If successful, the individual would be entitled to lost wages, penalties, and attorneys' fees.

The ordinance also adopts the San Jose minimum wage law's employee-friendly retaliation language.  Employees who claim they suffered an adverse employment action within 90 days of complaining about a violation of the ordinance will enjoy a rebuttable presumption that retaliation has occurred.

What if I have a collective bargaining agreement or just can't comply? Perhaps as a nod to its sponsors, the ordinance provides a carve-out for CBA scheduling provisions. But to invoke the carve-out, the CBA must explicitly waive the ordinance in clear and unambiguous terms.

The City has the authority to exempt businesses from complying with the ordinance where the business works in good faith to comply but compliance is impracticable, impossible, or futile. The City has yet, however, to outline the procedures for requesting this exemption.

Stay tuned. The ordinance takes effect on March 8, 2017. Be sure to check this site in the coming weeks for updates on the City's plans for rolling out the ordinance and any guidelines it might issue to help clarify the burden San Jose employers must bear in the new year.

Workplace Solutions. Compliance with new city ordinances can be tricky, especially since they are often unknown to employers. Knowledge is the first step. Compliance efforts are the next. If you would like assistance with ensuring compliance with this new ordinance, please contact the authors or another attorney from Seyfarth's Labor and Employment Group.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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